Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How Not to Save Newspapers: A Facebook Event

As the death rattle for newspapers gets louder, we’re seeing an interesting flurry of last minute discussions about how to save them. See, for instance, the back-and-forth about how to prop up or replace Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer, which is scheduled for euthanasia in a few weeks.

I’ve also asked Mark Josephson, the CEO of Outside.in, a start-up that’s supposed organize and eventually profit from a proliferation of Web-generated local news, to explain how he’d save the likes of the P.I. He promises to get back to me soon.

Here’s one gambit that won’t work: A PR stunt organized on Facebook.

Some 6,000 people have signed on to support “National Buy a Newspaper Day,” which is supposed to be Feb. 2, and is exactly what it sounds like. The only way this one would work would be if it convinced deep-pocketed philanthropists to buy newspaper companies themselves–you can get a lot of them for very little these days.

But! There is a bit of hope for newspapers. For one thing, they still inspire the passion of people like Chris Freiberg, the 24-year-old reporter at the Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska), who is organizing “Buy A Newspaper Day.”

I asked Chris to tell me a bit about himself and why he thought this might work, and his thoughtful and heartfelt response was enough to make me root for him. I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading his work in the future, regardless of the medium.

I recently graduated from Indiana University in 2007 with a degree in journalism. Though I’m still fairly young, I’ve actually done quite a bit in my career already. I started off writing a column for a small Catholic newspaper at the age of 14 and wrote for the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana throughout high school. I was the managing editor of the IU paper and have also had two articles published in Hustler magazine because of things that happened at IU (and yes, Hustler does actually print some articles).

My father, who passed away in 2000, started off a newspaperman when he left high school, though he eventually went into radio. My mom is currently a radio talk show host in the Chicago area. Really, it’s no surprise that I decided to pursue some form of journalism, though God knows, my mom tried to discourage me, constantly telling me there was no money in it. But it’s what I love doing and I’m happy.

As for why I started this event, I’ve read in particular the stories about what’s happening at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Chicago Tribune with great concern, that two such well-established newspapers may very well go out of business this year. Obviously though, those are just two of the biggest cases of a greater illness sweeping the industry.

Here in Fairbanks, because of our remoteness and the way the ownership of the paper is set up, we’re actually somewhat insulated from a lot of what happens in the rest of the country, but we’re still feeling some pain with multiple positions not being filled for several months to come. We had a staff meeting about these things last week, about our paper and the status of the industry, and I think one older reporter here put it best when she said that there are probably a lot of bad people out there who would love to see the newspaper industry go belly up.

I mean, there’s always going to be the national media keeping a close eye on what national politicians do, but if local newspapers start dying, who’s going to keep an eye on mayors and city councilmen? I’ve seen it myself that TV reporters ask two questions, get what they need for evening news, and then they’re gone. There’s no depth to their reporting.

That’s not to say that all or even most local politicians are corrupt, but I think it’s important that we have good newspaper reporters there keeping an eye on what goes on in local government, keeping the public well-informed about what’s happening in the community.

Millions of people have dogs to keep them safe, and being a dog owner myself, I know it doesn’t cost much more than 75 cents a day to keep that dog well-fed and happy. Newspapers can be just as effective a watch dog for the entire community, and they don’t require much more than that to survive either.”


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald